The latest addition to my website is Miklós Szentkuthy‘s Europa Minor, the fourth book in Szentkuthy’s Saint Orpheus’s Breviary series. This is the last of the series translated into French, though it is expected that this and further ones will appear in English from Contra Mundum Press. In this novel, Szentkuthy turns his attention to Asia, with the title a somewhat mocking reference to the European use of Asia Minor for the Anatolian plateau. We jump around from Philip II of Spain, Queen Mary of England (who was married to Philip) and Queen Elizabeth I of England (who reads The Tale of the Genji, nearly three hundred years before it appeared in English), before moving on to strange Persian folk-tales, invented by Szentkuthy, the Mogul Empire and Emperor Akbar in particular and Genghis Khan before returning to Queens Mary and Elizabeth. We even get an appearance from a couple of Americans: Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck, of all people. It is glorious fun, totally anarchic and it all goes to show that, well, the Asians are superior to the Europeans in many ways.
The latest addition to my website is Dag Solstad‘s T. Singer (T. Singer). This is the story of a man who, as usual for Solstad is ordinary but, when subject to more detailed scrutiny is less than ordinary and also a man who on the surface seems normal – job, marriage, social relations – but, in fact, gradually wishes to detach himself from life and other people, which he more or less does. Solstad peers beneath the surface of Singer and reveals a complex man but a man who wishes to be entirely self-sufficient, dependent on no-one. It is very well told and we cannot help but be fascinated by this ordinary but unusual man.
The latest addition to my website is François Bon‘s Sortie d’usine [Factory Exit]. This is Bon’s first novel but, sadly, neither this novel nor any of his others have been translated into English. It is a stream of consciousness novel, told in the third person, about life in a factory. The unnamed protagonist who, like Bon himself did, works in a metallurgical factory and he looks at it as though with a camera, moving around the factory, seeing the processes, the people, the surroundings, critical and cynical at times, affectionate towards certain employees (though generally not towards the management) and showing the lack of health and safety concerns (many of the employees are deaf because of the noise and we see a couple of serious injuries), the dehumanising aspect of such work and the tiredness and boredom of the working day. Bon never lets up, with his camera moving around, now to a well-liked employee, now to a strike and the HR manager speaking to the staff, now to the grime and grimness. It is not pretty and not happy but very well done.
The latest addition to my website is Sayaka Murata‘s ンビニ人間 (Convenience Store Woman). Murata did and, apparently, still does work in a convenience store. Keiko Furukura has never quite understand social norms since she was a child. When starting university she sees a new convenience store opening up and applies for the job. At the beginning of this novel she has worked there for eighteen years. She has found her place, her life governed by the convenience store and its manual of behaviour. She is very happy, knows her job well and does not want to change. To her parents’ chagrin she has never had a boyfriend, let alone a husband. Then Shiraha turns up to work at the store, looking as much for a wife as for a job. Murata tells her story very sympathetically, showing that finding your niche, even if it as a lowly as convenience store worker, is what matters, particularly if you do not fit in with the way society thinks you should fit in.
The latest addition to my website is Christoph Ransmayr‘s Die Schrecken des Eises und der Finsternis (The Terrors of Ice and Darkness). The book is about Arctic exploration and tells the story of several actual historical expeditions, including, in particular, the Austro-Hungarian North Pole expedition. It also recounts the story of the fictitious half-Austrian, half-Italian, Josef Mazzini who is determined to follow in the footsteps of the Austro-Hungarian North Pole expedition in the contemporary period. We know from the beginning of the book that he does not succeed while the Austro-Hungarian North Pole expedition does. I found the stories of the historical expeditions – others are recounted in less detail – more interesting than Mazzini’s story, even if his obsession, which matches that of the leaders of the previous ones, is interesting. Incidentally, Ransmayr is not the only German-speaking novelist to write about the Arctic. Sten Nadolny‘s Die Entdeckung der Langsamkeit (The Discovery of Slowness) is about the Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin.
The latest addition to my website is Tanja Maljartschuk‘s Біографія випадкового чуда (A Biography of a Chance Miracle). The novel is about corruption, incompetence, inefficiency, brutality and indifference in contemporary Ukraine and uses a cynical approach to these problems. However, it is also about Lena, a Ukrainian woman, who, unlike most other Ukrainians (in her opinion) has a conscience and tries to stand up for the less fortunate, not always entirely successfully. This is Maljartschuk’s first novel in English and an excellent one it is too, showing both, with humour and a serious approach, the problems of modern-day Ukraine but the courage and, at times, foolhardiness of a young woman who tries to combat these problems. There are no easy answers – Lena struggles hard – but miracles can happen, as the title implies.
The latest addition to my website is J. G. Farrell‘s The Singapore Grip. This is the third, final and by far the longest of Farrell’s Empire trilogy. As the title tells us, it is set in Singapore and we follow events, from a British perspective, leading up to the Japanese invasion in 1942. We particularly follow the Blackett family. Walter Blackett is head of a large trading company which ruthlessly exploits the native population and the markets and Farrell attacks that, their hypocrisy, the way Walter pimps his daughter, trying to get her to marry a suitable man, and their greed. We also follow in considerable detail the events leading up to the Japanese invasion, with the civilian population confident that the Japanese will be repulsed and the military showing spectacular incompetence, as well as being woefully unprepared and not having the appropriate military equipment and support to defend against the Japanese. The novel is both funny but also deadly serious as Farrell mocks and attacks the final throes of British colonialism.
The latest addition to my website is Shatila Stories, a collaborative novel, set up by Peirene Press and written entirely by Palestinian and Syrian refuges in the Shatila refugee camp and edited into a coherent novel. The novel tells of life within the camp and it is naturally not generally pretty. Conditions are poor, violence, drugs and sexism are rife, opportunities are limited and life is not good. We follow the stories of a few of the refugees, those who try to make a better life for themselves but also those whose life has gone sour. A young girl is married off to an older man, to help pay her family’s debts, a young man and young woman enter a music contest, a young woman tries to get to university in Canada and all struggle to survive and bring meaning to their lives. Given that the novel was written by amateurs and edited by professionals, it has turned out remarkably well and is a really fascinating read.
The latest addition to my website is Jon Fosse‘s Melancholia II (Melancholy II), a coda to his Melancholy, about the very real Norwegian painter Lars Hertervig. In this novel, Lars has died earlier in the year and we follow a day in the life of Oline his older sister. Oline is old, a widow and in not very good heath. She struggles through the day – her sister-in-law, for example, tells her that her other brother, Sivert, is dying – but spends much time reminiscing. She cannot remember who her many grandchildren are but she does remember Lars and his strange behaviour as a child and, indeed, as an adult. She also remembers her father’s at times irrational behaviour and the conflicts between father and son. But her time is coming near and it is her aching feet and her incontinence that also preoccupy her. Yes, it is a follow-up to the story of Lars but also about an old woman coming to the end of her life.
The latest addition to my website is Yūko Tsushima‘s 光の領分 (Territory of Light). Tsushima was the daughter of the writer Osamu Dazai who killed himself when she was one. This novel tells the story of a woman, whom we know only by her married name, who, at the start of the novel has left her husband. She has found a flat on the fourth floor of a Tokyo former office building which gives her a lot of light and, during the course of the novel, she lives there with her two year old daughter. She has various problems, including her controlling husband who has no job, difficulties with the flat, difficulties with her daughter who is temperamental, attempts by friends to make her reconcile with her husband (who is living with another woman) and generally cooping with life as a single mother. It is not a happy novel.